LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — In a game started by third- and fifth-string quarterbacks, the outcome was decided by one of their backups. It was appropriate enough for Arkansas and Missouri, two teams facing their longest losing streaks in decades.
Fayetteville High School graduate Taylor Powell entered for injured Connor Bazelak in the second quarter and led Missouri over his hometown Razorbacks 24-14, snapping a five-game skid for the Tigers and furthering Arkansas’ spiral to 19 straight SEC losses.
Missouri coach Barry Odom ran around the field after the final whistle, congratulating every player he could find individually. They were all emotional just three days after the NCAA’s surprising decision to uphold its bowl ban on the team after a nearly year-long appeals process.
"The mental toughness of creating the noise and controlling the noise between your ears, that’s up to you alone," he said. "These guys, they responded, they didn’t like it. But at the end of the day, nobody cares. It’s what we’ve got. It was about us."
Powell entered in the second quarter after Bazelak, in his first career start, left after injuring his knee on a scramble. Powell’s third pass was a 30-yarder, setting up a field goal to give Missouri (6-6, 3-5) a 10-7 lead. It was the first of three scoring drives he directed.
The three drives would have been enough by themselves.
Arkansas interim coach Barry Lunney Jr. started junior Jack Lindsey, who was only placed on scholarship in August. Lindsey began the year as the fifth-stringer but was pushed into duty after ineffectiveness and injury plagued the position to the point that coach Chad Morris didn’t win an SEC game in his season-plus before being fired November 10.
Lindsey completed just two of his first 13 passes, though both went for go-ahead touchdowns. The second score came on the first Arkansas drive of the second half after Greg Brooks Jr. intercepted Powell on the first play after the break. Lindsey, who finished 10 of 26 for 75 yards, began the drive at the Missouri 26, ran for 15 yards and, two plays later, found Grayson Gunter uncovered in the corner of the end zone to give the Razorbacks (2-10, 0-8) their first post-halftime lead against in any game since October 12 against Kentucky.
Two drives later, Powell led Missouri on an 8-play, 84-yard touchdown drive that would ultimately be the game-winner. He added a touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter to former Arkansas wide receiver Jonathan Nance for the final score of the game.
Powell finished 8 of 14 for 105 yards. Fellow Fayetteville High product Barrett Banister had six catches for 60 yards.
“I know what it’s like to go back and play your home school,” Odom said. “I’m proud of the effort and the focus. It’s not easy. It’s not easy a lot of times to handle those things.”
Arkansas will search for answers for a third straight offseason. The Razorbacks have finished 2-10 for back-to-back years, their worst stretch in school history. They need to find a quarterback after using eight different starters, including five in 2019, over those two seasons. They also need to find a coach as Lunney Jr. isn’t expected to be named Morris’ permanent replacement.
Lunney Jr., who has been on the Arkansas staff since 2013 with Bret Bielema and was the Razorbacks quarterback in the early and mid-1990s, coached the last two games of the season.
"We obviously didn’t play well enough to win. We didn’t deserve to win," he said. "But for two weeks, these guys, they were in a very difficult situation, and they very clearly gave everything they had in an effort to win the game tonight. So for that I’m very thankful."
It’s also unclear whether Odom will return for a fifth season leading Missouri. He has a 25-25 record after four years and the recent five-game losing streak leaves his job status in jeopardy. He is focused on returning to work Monday, happy with the way his team finished during a trying week that also kept all 23 of Missouri's wins from 2012-13 vacated.
"It wasn’t pretty, we all know that, but it was a win and I’ll take as many of those as we can get," Odom said. "Wish we had an opportunity to go play in a bowl game somewhere, but they can’t take those six from this team."
A QUIET EXIT
Both teams had graduate-transfer quarterbacks begin the season as the starter, with each team’s hopes banked on the new face. Only one saw the field in the finale.
Missouri’s Kelly Bryant, who dealt with leg injuries for the last month, was unable to go Friday and finished his one season with 2,215 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. Arkansas’ Ben Hicks, who hadn’t played since November 2, came in for the final Arkansas drive of the game and completed one pass for two yards, finishing his one year with the Razorbacks with 736 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
FEW SAW IT
Attendance at War Memorial Stadium on Friday was 33,961, the lowest total for an Arkansas game in its home away from home since 1996. Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville had already achieved its lowest and second lowest attendance figures since 1997 earlier this year.
SICK AND WOUNDED
Arkansas was without 14 players in its last game. Some, like offensive lineman Colton Jackson and linebacker Hayden Henry had pre-existing injuries. Others, including starting safety Kamren Curl, were late scratches. The university had experienced an outbreak of mumps earlier in the week that affected several students, though Arkansas would not comment on the reasons for some of the missing players.
Missouri: The Tigers have been a thorn for Arkansas since joining the SEC. Missouri has won the last four meetings and six of the last seven between the two teams.
Arkansas: Arkansas is in the midst of the worst two-year stretch in school history, having finished 2-10 in back-to-back seasons and riding a 19-game SEC losing streak.
Missouri: Eyes turn to Odom’s status as Missouri’s postseason ban keeps them from a bowl bid in the winter.
Arkansas: Lunney Jr. is unlikely to be named permanent head coach and the search for a replacement for Morris is entering its third full week.